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Refinishing paddle

I had two inexpensive wooden canoe paddles that had lost a lot of their varnish so over the winter I sanded them down and stained them. I was going for a two tone look but the stain did not take except where the wood was distressed. Made them look pretty distinct. Then I used Spar varnish, mostly three coats but six on the tips at least. First time I used them water was pretty low and we did a lot of shoving off the bottom. The varnish at the tips and a few other places blistered and peeled looking like sunburnt skin.
Now I plan to sand them back down and put G flex epoxy on the tips and tung oil on the bare wood as per a thread awhile back about refinishing paddles that came out after I had started the varnishing.
Thoughts? Did I do something wrong applying the spar varnish? I have never used tung oil and only know about it from reading here. How frequently do I need to reapply the tung oil and does it leach onto your hands while using them?


  • Evidently the wood was not sufficiently
    cleared of previous finish
    or other impurities.

    I've heard good reports about tung oil. One hundred year old wood in my daughter's dining table is finished with tung oil, and it has held up well.

    I use G-flex and other West epoxy, but I wouldn't depend on just epoxy to tip a paddle. But since your paddles are inexpensive, it may hold up until you're ready for paddles that are properly tipped at the factory.h
  • This sounds very familiar
    You wrote:

    "The varnish at the tips and a few other places blistered and peeled looking like sunburnt skin."

    Did you use Varathane water-based varnish? Because that is exactly what has happened to me and two friends of mine. It turns soft and kind of milky white in the water and blisters (just like skin blisters). It is junk. Any other spar varnish will do.
  • Varathane
    I use Varathane Spar Urethane on all the paddles I build and it works great. This product is water based and is the easiest, to apply with the best results of any finish I have ever used. You must allow it to thoroughly dry, which might take several days, even though it will feel dry to the touch in minutes. I usually apply two coats per day and after maybe 10 coats, allow a few more days to cure. I give it a coat of wax and it's good to go. Repairs are very easy.
  • That has not been our experience
    The guy who recommended Varathane to my paddling buddy and me (a boat builder with much experience varnishing) said it worked great for him. We followed instructions, let the stuff cure for days and it still went bad.

    He varnished the last cedar stripper boat he built with Varathane and the entire boat turned white in the water on its maiden voyage. He apologized to us for recommending it and won't use it anymore. He says the only thing he can think of is that they changed the formulation.

    I would say it's too much of a coincidence when three people (two of whom are very experienced) working from three different cans get the same crappy results.

  • What I used was
    Rustoleum ultimate spar varnish (gloss). It is water based. I followed directions on the can regarding applying coats. It sat in an air conditioned room for about two months after finishing before being used, so it was thoroughly dried.
    When the stain didn't take I suspected that maybe the old finish was impregnated in the wood but I had definitely sanded off all surface finish. I spent several weeks hand sanding them.
    I had already done the refinishing when the previous thread came out and as soon as I got off the water and looked at the paddles I remembered that phrase about sun burnt skin.
  • Well, I guess that raises questions
    ...about water-based "spar" varnishes and other finishes in general.

    I also made the mistake of painting the inside of a canoe with acrylic latex paint, which is also water-based. First time it got wet and I rubbed my shoe soles on the bottom, there went the paint.

    Stay away from water-based finishes, period. Use oil-based or urethane.
  • I did not realize it was water based
    until responding to this thread. I thought spar varnish was for marine uses.
  • Spar varnish IS for marine use
    -- Last Updated: Jun-20-13 2:17 PM EST --

    However, not for UNDER WATER use. As the name implies, it is meant for spars (masts and booms--and cabin sides, etc.) If you look at any spar varnish label, it usually has a statement that reads something like "not for use below the waterline" or "only for use above the waterline". They are meant for large wooden sailboats and motorboats, or those with lots of wood on deck.

    We canoeists and kayakers get away with it because our hulls and paddles don't STAY in the water all the time. But after my experience, I wouldn't trust a water-based varnish for anything. Why get water-based if it has no advantages and one great disadvantage and it costs the same as say, Minwax Helmsman, which WON'T blister and peel off?

  • Avoid waterbased products
    If the item will be subject to water immersion period.
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